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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Regina

The wedding of Prince Leopold and Princess Helena of Waldeck Pyrmont

On this day, 27th April 1882, Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria, married Princess Helen of Waldeck Pyrmont at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

The Marriage of the Duke of Albany, by Sir James Dromgole Linton, dated 1885 © Royal Collection Trust / HM King Charles III

Like most of his siblings, Leopold saw marriage as his only escape from the control of his mother. Although she was hesitant at first, Victoria soon agreed to the prospect. Along with his famous haemophilia, Leopold also suffered from mild epilepsy, which at the time was considered a social stigma. This, along with his overbearing mother, caused the search for suitors was much more difficult than anyone had anticipated. Suggested suitors included: Alice and Edith Liddell; Princess Frederica of Hanover, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship; Daisy Maynard; Princess Elisabeth of Hesse-Kassel; Princess Karoline Mathilde of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg; Princess Stéphanie of Belgium and Princess Victoria of Baden. He also developed a shared fondness with Mary Baring. However, aged just nineteen, Mary felt she was too young to marry.

Prince Leopold and Princess Helena 1882

After being rejected by around nine women, Leopold’s eldest sister sister, Crown Princess Victoria, suggested Princess Helen of Waldeck and Prymont. In September 1881, Leopold stayed in Darmstadt with his widowed brother-in-law, Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine. While there, he met Helen for the first time. The two immediately got along and after being informed of his conditions, Helen’s family agreed to the match. On 17th November, Leopold and Helen became engaged. In a letter to Louis, Leopold wrote that he was “mad with joy”.

Princess Helen in her wedding dress 1882

Their wedding took place five months later, on 27th April 1882. The ceremony was attended by British and European royalty, as well as: government officials, members of the queens household and many other dignitaries. It conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was aided by the Dean of the Chapel Royal and the bishops of Windsor, Oxford and Worcester. Leopold wore a Colonels uniform and used a cane to assist him down the aisle. He was supported by his Brother, the Prince of Wales, and Louis. Following tradition, Helen wore a white silk gown, with flounces of orange blossom and myrtle. She also wore a diamond necklace, which she had received as a wedding gift from Prince Leopold. She was supported down the aisle by eight bridesmaids.

Prince Leopold and Princess Helen 1882

After the ceremony, the royal party and all their guests returned to Windsor Castle, where the Marriage Register was signed. A luncheon was hosted for the royal guests, while a buffet was served in the Waterloo gallery for the other guests. A private banquet was held in the evening for royalty, clergy members and other invited guests. However, this was missed by the newlyweds, who left Windsor at 4pm to begin their honeymoon at Claremont House in Surrey. Unfortunately, their time away was interrupted when Helena’s sister died suddenly on 30th April.

Prince Leopold and Princess Helen with Princess Alice 1883

On 25th February 1883, Helen gave birth to their first child, Princess Alice. A year later, doctors instructed Leopold to visit Cannes to avoid the cold English climate, which often caused him joint pain. At the time, Helen was pregnant with their second child and couldn’t travel. Leopold was hesitant to go but Helen insisted he leave for his health. In the early hours of the 28th March, Leopold died of a cerebral haemorrhage. Four months later, Helen gave birth to their second child, Prince Charles Edward. Although their marriage had been short, it’s thought that they extremely happy together.

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